“For years, we’ve had areas with large numbers of unvaccinated children. These were mostly in affluent neighborhoods,” reports California’s chief epidemiologist. “Our rates weren’t budging.” Anti-vaxxers from those neighborhoods were quick to point to studies from Andrew Wakefield linking vaccines to autism.
A breakthrough finally came this year, when drone-delivered oral vaccines became available. The inspiration came from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It used wild drone-delivered vaccines on peanut butter-coated M&M’s for vaccination of wild ferrets. “If they could do it for wild ferrets, why not for the offspring of free-range parents?” said a CDC spokesman, who preferred not to be named.
From ferrets, it was a quick leap to human vaccine delivery. The vaccines in California are delivered for newborns in gift packages containing cloth diapers, organic cotton onesies, and vaccine-coated amber teething rings. For older children, vaccine-containing gluten-free Gummy Bears delivered to birthday parties have been a hit.
The California Department of Public Health teamed up with Amazon Prime for drone delivery of vaccines. “It was something we could do to help the public,” says Jeff Bezos, CEO for Amazon. To prevent vaccine shortages or over-vaccination, Amazon limits the number of Gummy Bears or teething rings that can be ordered by a customer, and limits delivery to areas with low vaccination rates. “By making them exclusive, they’re more desirable,” says Bezos.
Drone-delivered vaccines are currently available only in California. Other state health departments are looking to team up with Amazon to boost their vaccination rates as well. Asked about whether there might be international expansion of the program, Bezos responded, “We’d love to help prevent childhood infections. We had preliminary discussions with health officers in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but neither country had any interest in our drone services.”